Category Archives: long term reunion

Old Reunion vs. New Reunion

Circle Flags

I forget how far we’ve come sometimes. Before Cathy and I were reunited in 1989, impossible questions left me aching empty handed. Now, twenty-seven years after our reunion, our connection and the memories we’ve made together, have slowly filled the empty well in my heart.

My connection – and sometimes disconnection – with Cathy still echoes with cacophonous guilt that niggles me to reenact my relinquishment and the cost to both of us. That teenager’s decision was the hardest, one that I could never take back. Forty-five years later – twenty-seven years into our reunion – breakthrough moments in our connection have tied our deeper selves to each other. Our real selves have replaced the fantasy people we had in mind in the void before reunion. Our times together have knit new nets across deep holes of sorrow and the truth has made supple the tightrope we walk between our hearts and the days of our lives. We are still vulnerable and susceptible, but we know each other now and there is real love between us.

Today finds me filling out Medicare forms in between music work, while Cathy finishes up her double masters degree, raises two sons and works full time at the university. Her family life is full. We live two turns down the road. We are not what Cathy deems “core family” but we are part of the family nevertheless. It’s an awkward incongruity but we’ve adjusted to our roles as outsiders inside her family circle. My husband, “Uncle Grandpa Steve” has arranged and made himself available to take our youngest grandson to guitar lessons, and he gives the older grandson rides to judo in a pinch. I am Grandma Kate who bakes treats and lets them run freely on my piano, showing them a little at a time, before their fingers take off on adventures of their own. I muss their hair with affection and throw the ball around. It’s joyful to be with the grandchildren this way and it is always filled with tender care, love and fun. I’m not Nona nor Nana. They know who I am, and in their bones know that we love them as our own and they feel normal with us.

The complexities of my daughter’s busy life, the widowed mother she is now responsible for, and the demands of her family, keep her running at full speed. Cathy recently moved her adoptive mother from Florida to Portland to set her up in a comfortable apartment on an eldercare campus nearby. On the other side of the country, my mother passes her time in eldercare assisted living near Boston. My mother is six years older than Cathy’s adoptive mom, who is twenty years older than me. The age gap has put Cathy and I on common ground – as we care for, and eventually lose, our parents – and the irony has deepened our bond in unexpected ways.

After fifty years as a non-practicing catholic, I resumed going to Sunday mass at a church behind our house in Seattle a few years ago. New to town, a new job, parents in declining health, and my own mortality, made the few steps up the block to mass a moment of retreat on Sundays, to say my prayers and listen to what the big Kenyan pastor with the heart of gold had to say. It was good for me. Since our return to Portland, I’ve tried out different churches to see if there is one that feels like home. No one else I know goes to church, so I go by myself, a rogue bee looking for its hive.

A few weeks after Dotty came to Portland, I asked her if she’d like to go to mass with me. She doesn’t drive anymore or have a way to get out on her own. I told her I could just pick her up and we could go together to the church near her apartment. She didn’t want to “be a bother” but then I told her that the companionship would be nice for me, she’d be doing me a favor. In my heart I thought, she could carry on in her own tradition in this new town with someone she knows – me. Cathy liked the idea and it gave her one less thing to worry about or do on weekends packed with kid obligations.

This small chance to take Dotty to mass – that I couldn’t do with my own mother from so far away – has grown our bond as friends – and as mothers to one daughter. We sometimes go for a bite after mass and it’s fun to bring her to places in Portland that play a part in Cathy’s history here.

“This is where Cathy got her first job bussing tables after she came to Portland – and decided that she wasn’t going to work in the restaurant business!” I ribbed as we breakfasted at the Cup & Saucer on SE Hawthorne.

We laughed, and the chuckle in the air was full of all that is our daughter in that flashback to Cathy’s heroic journey to Portland (and me). Our unadulterated love for her shone brightly as we smiled over our breakfast, knowing we were sharing a very good secret.

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To read my daughter’s counterblog, please visit ReunionEyes.
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The Guitar Lesson

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Before Cathy left on a vacation to the UK with her adoptive mother, she came over for an evening to write with me, and for a guitar lesson with my husband, Steve. She started to hedge about the music lesson “until I return from vacation” but Steve, in his irrepressible manner, threw the little parlor guitar into her hands and said, “Here, just do what I show you.”

It was like she had just saddled up her horse, climbed on and rode. They started singing “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere” and he’d stop every now and then to show her a trick with the strum, and then a little picking. He loves to teach and nothing delights him more than a willing student. And Cathy was much more than that to him. She wasn’t given any time to wrangle out of the idea and once the guitar was settled on her lap, she played and sang along without missing a beat. Her voice was pretty and had good pitch, and her rhythm was natural, spot on – she kept pace like a pro.

It thrilled me to watch and listen to her, and I threw out words of encouragement between bars of the song. “That sounds good!” “You’ve got it!” and I began to harmonize to them while I finished putting away the dinner dishes.

I had always wanted to find a way to share the music with Cathy but had been afraid of intimidating her, or frustrating her by not teaching her what she wanted to know and creating more distance between us. Steve didn’t carry any of the baggage I had, and in his free-spirited manner made their lesson a sweet part of the evening before we sat down to write without any fuss or second-guessing.

That little guitar lesson taught me something, too.

He just took her by the hand and walked her through it in the most natural way. She trusted him – they have shared a loving, mostly uncomplicated relationship over the years. Steve simply took the lead and she followed. He looked at me and smiled, “She’s really got it!” Her voice was beautiful.

The next day she marveled at how much the lesson thrilled her. I happily envied their exchange and how excited she was for the next time. I saw more clearly  now that rather than being afraid of teaching Cathy to play, I could simply follow Steve’s example, throw the guitar in her hands and say, “Here, just do what I show you.”

I want to harmonize with my daughter the way Mother Nature intended it. There’s really nothing for me to be afraid of except getting closer, chord by chord.

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To read my daughter’s counterblog, please visit ReunionEyes.
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A Birthmother’s Perspective on Rosie O’Donnell and Chelsea

2015-09-02 09.44.46Cathy and I wrote letters for fours years after we met in 1989, while she was in college. One of her first written requests was for permission to ask me anything, and that I answer her with honesty and not hold back. She really wanted to know what I could tell her and the circumstances that would fill in the blanks in her past to form the true story of her family of origin.

Highlights in our correspondence became the “Letters” chapter in our memoir, Kathleen~Cathleen, and documented our mutual exploration during those first few years in reunion. We savored the letters that arrived in each other’s hand and took our time to soak in every word, and then respond.

In closed adoptions like ours, relinquishment forbids first mothers from contact with their child or their family. Although this rule of detachment is seen as self-imposed, trespass into the adoptive family and one’s child is forbidden and illegal.

This is a hard place for both mother and child to be in.

One of the last letters Cathy wrote when she graduated from college expressed her insecurity about what she should do next. My response was to invite her to come to Portland, Oregon that summer “to rub elbows with her genes” for a few weeks to take advantage of the freedom she now had to decide for herself.

My next letter back from Cathy had a big “YES!” handwritten on it. She began to make her plans to visit.

She never went back.

So when Chelsea, Rosie O’Donnell’s adopted daughter, turned eighteen and opted to live with her birthmother, it struck me as natural. I don’t watch television or know anything about them, really, but at eighteen her decision to live with her birthmother and “rub elbows with her genes” was normal and predictable.

The only reason Chelsea’s story was portrayed as news is because her adoptive mother is a highly visible celebrity and ready fodder for footage in the public eye. The news boasted Rosie’s anger with captions of cutting Chelsea’s financial support off in dramatic “all or nothing” style. True or not, it was a media spin clammering over an adoptee who had come of age and simply wanted to experience her roots.

There were no television cameras when Cathy left New Jersey at twenty-two on the Green Tortoise bus for Portland after college. Her adoptive parents understood that their daughter needed something more than they could provide her with – she needed to know and understand more about her lineage, heritage and family of origin. They got it, and responded lovingly. Although I’m certain they worried, they supported her decision with confidence and didn’t interfere with her pilgrimage.

My job was to fill in the blanks.

In his Book of Forgiving, written with his daughter Rev. Mpho Tutu on transformative healing, Desmond Tutu described the long-term effects of trauma from a study that followed war-affected children to measure their stability and mental health following the genocidal events in their homes and villages in South Africa.

They found that the group of children who had heard the true stories from their relatives about what had happened to their kin – in every grisly detail – proved to be well adjusted and exhibited stable emotional health, and were found able to handle conflict, decisions and crisis to a far better degree than the children from the same circumstances who had been protected from the truth of what had happened to their family.

Tutu says, “We are all in a relationship with one another, and when that relationship breaks, we all have the responsibility to roll up our sleeves and get to the hard work of repair” and summons us to “listen to what the heart hears.”

“We cannot begin again
We cannot make a new start as though the past has not passed
But we can plant something new
In the burnt ground
In time we will harvest a new story of who we are
We will
Build a relationship that is tempered by the fire of our history
I am a person who could hurt you
And knowing those truths we choose to make something new
Forgiveness is my back bent to clear away the dead tangle of hurt and recrimination
And make a space, a field fit for planting
When I stand to survey this place I can choose to invite
you in to sow seeds for a different harvest
Or I can choose to let you go
And let the field lie fallow.”

To withhold the truth – or a mother and child from each other – is a deliberate decision, not an act of love. For better or worse, it’s an act of power. Once the child grows into adulthood, the journey becomes theirs alone to explore. Loving parents, adoptive and biological, who find ways to “listen to what the heart hears,” will aim to support the health of their child by helping them to explore from the heart to determine what is true and meaningful for them, and leave the façades behind. Love nourished multiplies.

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To read my daughter’s counterblog, please visit ReunionEyes.
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Therapy: Excerpt from Kathleen~Cathleen, Part 5

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Below is Part 5 of our blog series sharing excerpts from our memoir, Kathleen~Cathleen. Last week in “Going Dark – Dusk,” we shared an excerpt that described a dichotomy that challenged us, divided us and polarized our ability to experience peaceful union in our reunion. Below is my excerpt from the Therapy chapter of the memoir (then read Cathy’s Therapy excerpt at ReunionEyes).
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KATE Reading…

Cathy revealed something in therapy that changed everything. She told me that explanations didn’t matter. She didn’t need me to have the answers. She didn’t need me to be brave. She needed to see me feeling pain.

In order for her to believe that she meant anything beneath the surface, she needed to see my tears. She needed to see me cry. She needed to see me in a state of pain over her. For her, my tears made it real. If she was to believe that losing her was my loss, she needed to hear the pain behind the talk.

For her to have lost me at her birth had left a mysterious question mark that haunted her. She needed to feel my haunted heart, the distress of her absence in my life. Every rational reason for the decision behind our separation – my young age and lack of experience, none of it meant anything next to seeing me cry over it.

Witnessing my tears told her far more than my words. She didn’t just want to know why I felt something, she wanted to see me feel it and to know that everything that happened between us really meant something, that it – all of it – really hurt; that she has always meant something to me and that she has always been important to me… even from the beginning… and that she will always matter, no matter what.

We began to talk about ways to reclaim each other. For the first time, I was encouraged by the therapist to take Cathy as my daughter. For the first time, I’d  become aware that this was something that Cathy wanted me to do.

For the first time, I was enabled to BE her mother and she was enabled to BE my child.

We imagined how it could have been. I was allowed to feel my regret. I was allowed to remove the honorable mantle of my noble sacrifice, and to replace it with a shawl of grief for my lost baby.

One of my the assignments our therapist, Deborah, gave us encouraged me to write a new contract to replace the one I had signed in the attorney’s office. I rewrote it in reverse.

Instead of taking myself out of the picture and forfeiting my rights, I put myself into the role of possessive mother and reclaimed my child in legal language. Instead of relinquishing my rights to my child, I committed myself to taking the power of responsibility for her. I swore my loyalty, my heart, soul and body back to my daughter. I was hers to have now. I would never abandon her again. My promise was a doorway into the next leg of our relationship.

Those Tuesday hours that year with Deborah brought us through many places and I noticed new things were happening inside me. Driving home from work, or on an elevator between floors on the job, I would start to cry for no apparent reason. Pieces that had been sealed in place for so many years broke apart, and the feelings underneath them rose with the tears that fell.

I began to understand that hiding behind my strength had been an excuse for resisting the pain. This numbness began to lose its grip in my heart. My bravery had been an excuse for paralysis. I started to feel more. At first that alarmed me. Then I started to allow myself to feel even more. I began to cry, not only from buried sorrow, but also from recently found joy and gratitude. I felt myself more alive in new and unexpected ways.
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To read my daughter’s counterblog, please visit ReunionEyes.
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Going Dark – Deepening: Excerpt from Kathleen~Cathleen, Part 3

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Below is Part 3 of our blog series sharing excerpts from our memoir, Kathleen~Cathleen. Last week we shared an excerpt from when we were first transitioning from Honeymoon into a harder time in “Going Dark – Sundown.” Here we go deeper, darker and realize there’s more to reunion than meeting and going our separate ways.

Below is my excerpt from the Going Dark chapter of the memoir, titled “Deepening” (then read Cathy’s Deepening excerpt at ReunionEyes.
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KATE Reading….

It was hard for me to tell sometimes whether she was enjoying what we were doing or just going through the moves. In my mind, I knew that it must have been tricky for her to decide how she wanted to be around me. I was a different kind of bird than what she was used to.

I also found myself unsure of how much of a guiding force I was supposed to be for this grown young woman I had taken in as my daughter, twenty-two with a mind of her own. We were using words like “mother” and “daughter” but the truth was clear: we were intimate strangers.

The fresh feeling of Cathy’s arrival faded with daily life, and our celebratory feeling began to gain some weight. Between my work schedule on weekdays and the lack of personal time and money, I began to feel frustrated.

I wasn’t in a position to just slip her the money she needed to help her explore her next steps, the way a parent would for a child who is entering the world on their own. I wanted to give Cathy more than I had to give, and it was frustrating not to be able to provide her with things and treat her to special gifts.

Not only that, but I couldn’t afford to carry another person on my hourly wages. For the past year I had been paying off high phone bills and debt from my ex-husband’s easy spending habits, and lived from paycheck to paycheck without any savings to fall back on.

Guilty feelings started to rise inside me. I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to do – whether to act like a mother of a grown daughter or the gracious host of a B&B.

I opted to be the host most times because it was the safest and least complex. Underneath my steady composure, feelings of inadequacy kicked into gear and started to erode my confidence.

I wanted my original portrait as a pregnant teenager with no options to evaporate and be replaced by a mature woman with resources and experience and money to lavish on her daughter.

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To read my daughter’s counterblog, please visit ReunionEyes.
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All Rights Reserved
KathleenCathleen©2015

Going Dark – Sundown: Excerpt from Kathleen~Cathleen, Part 2

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Below is Part 2 of our blog series using previously unshared excerpts from the American Adoption Congress Conference in San Francisco in 2014, where we read alternating excerpts from our memoir, Kathleen~Cathleen.

Last week we shared an excerpt from “Honeymoon,” which gave a glimpse into the joy of coming together. However, all honeymoons come to an end. In “Going Dark – Sundown,” we take the first steps into the darkness and confusion that are an inevitable part of reunion. My excerpt below is from the Going Dark chapter of the memoir, titled “Sundown” (then read Cathy’s “Sundown” excerpt.)
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KATE Reading…

The discovery that being accepted into a relationship with Cathy was purely optional on her part was disconcerting for me. Since our reunion, I had assumed that she would make room for me, and the kin who came with me, in her life. I began to see that Cathy’s choice to become involved with me, her sister Abby, my parents, my siblings and circle of friends, was selective on her part.  It was conditional and existed at her whim. Just because she knew who we were was no guarantee that a relationship would be forged.

I felt the opposite about my role with her.  I had been responsible for relinquishing her to being adopted and now she had come back to me. She wanted to find out more about who I was and why I had let her go.

Just being together in my apartment was proof that we were both on a quest. I looked for ways to put her at ease and tried to make her feel at home. I wanted to understand who she was. Her quiet nature begged questions. She didn’t think outloud like me.

I felt in my soul that it was her birthright and my moral duty to give her genuine access to who I was, and I wanted to offer her what I could without pretense. We had come from secrets and lies; in this new relationship we could be true and honest. Conversely, she had a right to be herself and to decide what she was interested in – or not – about me.

As hard as it had been, I had “deselected” my role to mother her as a baby, and I had put her in the hands of others to raise and care for her.  Now she was an adult and she had unspoken rules that did not allow unchecked interference from anyone, including me – maybe especially me. She would decide what role she wanted to take for herself. I wanted to be closer but she held me at arm’s length.

Unlike families you are born into and stuck with no matter what, Cathy’s re-entry into my family seemed to be more as a spectator than a participant. The fact that she chose to connect with me was her prerogative, and that she had the option to engage or not, remained her advantage. The “select” button wasn’t going to be pushed just because we were all related by blood and we stood there in front of her.

I began to discover that she appeared indifferent to whatever feelings arose, whether from me or Abigail. It wasn’t that she didn’t care, we were just “outside” of who she officially needed to care about. We roamed “outside” of the boundaries that contained her “real” family members. We were extras in her movie, and she was under no obligation to employ us in her plans.

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To read my daughter’s counterblog, please visit ReunionEyes.
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All Rights Reserved
KathleenCathleen©2015
Circe Invidiosa (1892) painting by John William Waterhouse